A collection of students at Arizona Connections Academy will present their vision of the Valley’s future at the Future City Regional Competition next month.
Four students from the online academy will enter their vision about how people in the Valley, whose population has grown to an estimated 11 million people in the model, will go from place to place in 50 years to a panel of judges. Whomever wins the regional contest heads off to nationals in Washington, D.C., in February, and the winner of that competition will earn a trip to the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
“It’s a great lesson for them and something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” said teacher Meg Kirby.
The project is pretty involved, as the students have worked on one component or another since August. Since the start of the project, the students — seventh-grader Max Gao and sixth-graders Jared Daniels, Alton Mueller and Anthony Akers — had to research their options, use SimCity to see if their idea could work and build a model of their proposed plan. They spent much of their day on Dec. 6 doing so at the Arizona Connections building in Gilbert.
Although the theoretic population grew in the model, the city itself only expanded toward the sky, and participants also had to find a means of transportation that does not use gasoline. To account for both qualifiers, Daniels said the team of four ended up going with a series of tubes, called the Space Tunnel, that can reach speeds of up to 370 mph.
“It would be easier to create tubes than flying cars,” he said. “We thought of something that’s fast but not something you own.”
Kirby, who teaches gifted and talented students between grades three and six, said the Future Cities project provides her students several benefits, including a strong emphasis on STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, content. What they’ve learned over the last five months, she said, also crosses into subjects like English and social studies.
Similarly, the project requires students to work on their public speaking skills when they speak to judges about the project and defend the logic behind their decisions.
“If they can’t articulate what they’ve done, their job is not complete,” Kirby said.
Another benefit of note is the way the project brings the students together. Arizona Connections Academy is an online school, which means the students learn from home and live in all parts of the Valley. Gao, for example, lives in Queen Creek, while Mueller takes his classes from his home in Mesa.
Because of the nature of the project, Kirby said the students have had a chance to interact with one another and even take field trips to visit engineers. At least one engineer, C&S Companies Managing Engineers’ Rich Graham, has popped by to work with the students hands on throughout the course of the project. In the time he’s spent with the four students, Graham said he’s impressed with what they’ve come up with and credited the program for its promotion of problem solving and how it challenges students.
“I wish I had some of that experience,” he said.
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